4 questions to ask yourself before buying a pleasure boat

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Ask a Lender
October 6, 2017 | Updated October 9, 2017


Key Points

Steps to take when shopping for a pleasure boat

  1. Which boat do I want?
  2. Where should I shop?
  3. Is new or used best?
  4. What is my budget?

Whether you’re a licensed boater who has been on the water for years or a novice who is interested in starting a new hobby, when you’re ready to buy a new boat, there’s a lot of information to sort through.

Here are four key questions to ask when you’re looking at your next pleasure craft.

1. Which boat do I want?

There are many types of vessels to fit specific needs, including speed boats, freshwater and saltwater fishing boats, express cruisers, sailboats and pontoon boats, among others. You should choose a boat based on what you like to do on the water. You might need extra space for family outings or overnight trips. You might also need a trailer for hauling purposes.

There are myriad questions to ask as part of this process: Will you be cruising on lakes, rivers or oceans? Will you be fishing, water skiing, scuba diving or living on board? Do you want a motorboat or a sailboat? After deciding which type of boat you want, select a manufacturer and a dealer that will reliably meet your needs. Look for brands that retain their value over time, as well as companies that win awards for production quality and customer service. Dealerships that provide a range of services, from financing and insurance to registration and moorage, may have higher trust factors.

2. Where should I shop?

Browse online listings or attend a boat show, two of the most common ways to find a boat. Many websites allow you to compare models and prices, or take a virtual tour. You can often filter searches by model, length, type and location. Pay attention to details about standard equipment, then compare similar boats to see what is included and what may be optional.

Hiring a broker can be helpful to winnow down an overwhelming number of choices. Even an experienced boater may not know the current market dynamics if they've been using the same boat for the past decade.

Regardless of who the seller is, you may be able to negotiate the purchase price. If you’re completing a private sale, ask a few more questions. For example, if the boat is stored at a marina, ask the manager if it has any existing liens, since this could complicate the purchase and make it more expensive.

3. Is new or used best?

You can obviously save money upfront by buying a used boat, but you may not find something that perfectly matches your needs, or you may end up with something that is not as reliable and will cost you just as much — or more — in the long run.

Buying a used boat may be desirable if you are comfortable with the idea of restoring it in your spare time. However, if your primary goal is to get out on the water as soon as possible, a new boat may be a better decision. Also, new boats include warranties, which commonly cover the hull, engine and equipment for anywhere from three to 10 years.

If you go with a used boat, consider using only half your budget on the purchase price and the remainder on upgrades. Understand the differences between cosmetic and performance upgrades. Making a boat look nice with new seating, carpets, paint or sails may improve the resale value but it won’t make the boat run more efficiently. Engine upgrades are generally the costliest items for a motorboat and new rigging — ropes, pulleys, cables and chains — are the costliest items for a sailboat. Finally, take safety seriously: Things like an inflatable life raft, lifejackets, a radio and bilge pumps should take priority over less-essential items.

4. What is my budget?

It’s not uncommon to be able to finance a boat loan for the cost of a new car, around $250 a month. Tell the dealer how much you want to spend and stick to that number. Use a boat-loan calculator to put terms, interest rates and down payments into the equation. To avoid budget overruns, however, look beyond the price of the boat itself.

Compare rental prices at docks and marinas. Depending on your location, consider a dry storage facility for cold-weather months. Oil changes and winterizing services are often charged on an hourly basis and you can expect to pay a similar amount as you would for a vehicle. The average boater uses around 100 gallons of gasoline per year.

There’s also the cost of insurance, which varies by boat type, length and the level of coverage. Compare rates between providers. Your current carrier may give you a good deal. Liability insurance is recommended as minimum protection, as it will safeguard your personal assets in case someone is injured aboard the boat.

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